Corrugated, Sustainability, Trends

Six indicators of effectively leveraged packaging

What renders a tool effective is the skill with which it’s utilized. Packaging has great potential. However, potential always is a quality that either gets unlocked or remains unfulfilled.

It’s a given that some corporations are more effective at leveraging packaging, but what do they share in common? While not offered as a collectively exhaustive list, the following indicators address that question.

1. Packaging is acknowledged by top management.

It’s good to have friends in high places. When a CEO recognizes packaging as a strategic tool and a source of competitive advantage, it bestows a level of prestige difficult to obtain through any other means. Such recognition needs to be conveyed company-wide, luckily not a daunting task, given the various internal channels commonly utilized for top-down communications. The recognition, however, also should include external stakeholders, most importantly the customer base. For example, the extent that packaging is mentioned at stockholders’ meetings, in annual reports, and on the company’s website suggest recognition by top management.

Recognition that is not supported by action is lip-service. Recognition, therefore, is necessary for the effective leveraging of packaging but is not sufficient. It makes sense, nonetheless, to discuss recognition first, for without it, the other indicators have no prospect of being implemented.

2. The company has a practical philosophy concerning packaging.

Not to be confused with the related concept of culture, a company’s philosophy is the prism through which it interprets reality and its place therein, applying knowledge, beliefs, opinions, assumptions, instincts, and logic. A philosophy about packaging should: 1) define the discipline; 2) define its functions; 3) define its importance; and, 4) define how it is to be used. Definitions 1 and 2 should be regarded as universal, but definitions 3 and 4 should be regarded as company-specific. The subsequent paragraphs provide further details.

Packaging, far more than just a container, is a system that necessitates trade-offs among competing (often conflicting) requirements imposed throughout the company’s supply chain. An aware company is less likely to make decisions that produce suboptimal net effects to that system.

Packaging performs the functions of protection, communication, and convenience/utility. An aware company is less likely to assign a role to packaging that’s outside those capabilities.

Packaging’s importance differs in accordance with a given company’s industry and products. A comparison between consumer packaged goods and industrial non-durables illustrates that point, in that the former places greater reliance on communication and convenience/utility while the latter places greater reliance on protection. An aware company is more likely to understand that all the functions of packaging should be present, although not necessarily in equal measure.

As for how packaging is to be used, words to live by are honesty and forthrightness. Packaging, true of any tool, can be misused. After all, there is a term called deceptive packaging, and there’s never an absence of parties quick to apply it to any company deemed to have made itself vulnerable.

3. Packaging is staffed and managed by professionals.

In every user-industry, there are alumnae of the various packaging curriculums, not that that’s the lone calling card to be considered, but being degreed should be a requirement. As shown by employment ads, for example, companies vary regarding what constitutes “a plus” (i.e. minimum years of experience, the industry in which that experience was acquired, and familiarity with certain intellectual technology).

The preceding requirements are easily evaluated, in that, either the candidate possesses them or not. Less easily evaluated, but just as worthy of being requirements, are certain intangibles, such as creativity, inventiveness, and self-initiative. That said, it’s the rare job interview that’s designed to ferret out those qualities.

Packaging departments range in size from an individual to dozens. The Goldilocks (not too little, not too big) size is the one required to effectively and efficiently maximize packaging’s contribution to the company’s competitive strategy.

4. Packaging is properly positioned on the organization chart.

Packaging, as alluded, constantly has to interface with other disciplines, such as product development, procurement, legal, marketing, production, and logistics, just to mention the major ones. Packaging’s interdisciplinary nature should be a factor in assigning its position on the organization chart. Nonetheless, packaging should be afforded the needed amount of autonomy.

That autonomy is more likely when packaging is positioned horizontal relative to the disciplines it serves. It would be questionable to vertically place packaging as answerable to a particular discipline. If, for example, packaging is a department under marketing, the latter might exercise disproportional sway about packaging-related decisions. An analogous example can be made regarding any of the other above-cited disciplines. In all such examples, it’s unlikely that packaging-related decisions will be made in the truest tradition of the systems approach.

5. Packaging is adequately resourced and budgeted.

Packaging should be allocated assets commensurate with the expectations placed upon it. Salaries need to be competitive to attract and retain top talent. Are laboratory and testing equipment prudent investments? What about in-house design capabilities? The more a company is reliant on proprietary features and intellectual properties (i.e. patents and trade-dress), the more the answer ‘yes’ is justified.

A company that appreciates the value (make that necessity) of staying in front of trends and drivers should include in the budget attendance at relevant conferences, seminars, exhibitions, and the like.

6. Packaging has citable accomplishments.

The bottom-line indicator always is results, that is to say, quantified returns. There’s nothing wrong with packaging tooting its own horn, making it known throughout the company what’s been achieved─better yet, overachieved.

In wrap-up, a company should not regard the six indicators as boxes to be checked; rather, they should be regarded as dynamic, not static. Complacency should never settle in; there’s always room for improvement─for example, practicing benchmarking and identifying best practices. Such a mindset, could qualify as a seventh indicator.

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